I have a gazillion feelings about my body, but love isn’t one of them.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see an ugly monster; nor do I want to worship myself as the Goddess of Beauty. Instead, I see something to put clothes on in order to get ready for the day.
No, I don’t love my body. I simply see it as tool to live my life. A good, practical, working tool, like a car, for example. It has all the parts and can drive me from A to B. I must keep it in good condition, but I don’t have to love it.
When I hear I should love my body, I’m quite puzzled that I need to pay it even more attention than I already do. Let’s face it, our bodies – and women’s bodies in particular – have ways to remind us of their existence. Menstruation, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and menopause–not to mention the usual bodily functions–are constant reminders to women that they are prisoners of their own physiology.
We, as society, have a weird relationship with women and their bodies. Either we see them as something impure that needs to be covered lest it invites bad thoughts in men, or we put women on a pedestal and worship them. In short, we either tell women to hate their bodies, or tell them they should love them because it perfectly mirrors the confusion we feel about women in general.
Telling a woman to love her body is idealizing it. It’s making everything about her body–just like calling her “beautiful from inside out” is still about the pursuit of physical beauty, and saying she’s “perfect just the way she is” is still about desiring physical perfection. It’s still telling them how they should feel about their bodies. Maybe it’s time we stopped obsessing so much about women’s bodies and concentrated on their smart, brilliant, amazing minds instead.
The truth is that you don’t have to love your body. Instead, you can make a pact with it–a contract, if you will. I have, and it works like this: I nourish my body, get it moving, feed it delicious meals, and occasionally let it indulge on chocolate. In return, my body does its best to get me wherever I want to go and helps me do whatever I want to do, to the best of its abilities.
Maybe it’s a very cold and pragmatic way to see myself, but it works for me. I treat my body well because if a tool needs to last, it requires maintenance. Just because I referred to it as a “tool” doesn’t mean that it can be treated badly–not by others, and not by myself. I think this very realistic way of perceiving myself is extremely liberating, too. Instead of being too harsh on my body, or putting it on a pedestal, I see myself as I really am–flaws and all.
It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t change anything about my body. In fact, if I could, I would do it in a blink. No, I’m not talking about breasts too big, or bellies too fat. I don’t mean cosmetics. I mean functionality.
It would be nice, for example, to have a body that doesn’t drop things or bump into furniture. It would be nice to have one that doesn’t have sensory issues. But it won’t happen. This body of mine is the only one I’ll ever have, and I have to work with what I’m given. To make this relationship work, we have our little pact.
And work it does. It simply has to. I do what I have to do to keep myself healthy, and then I just move on.
When my children point to my belly and playfully ask me what it is, I can reply without overthinking the meaning of their innocent question: “This is my belly.” That’s all there is to it, really. It’s not ugly, and it’s not beautiful. It’s just a belly.
They laugh and caress it with their little hands. I scoop all three into my arms and hug them tightly. I have better things to focus on than loving my body.
Now this is a concept I could totally subscribe to! Great post. I surprised myself by realising that I am much more satisfied with my body post-pregnancy than I ever was before. I have stopped obsessing about insignificant details, there are more important things in life.
Thank you Ilze. I don’t feel better about my body after pregnancy, but I just don’t obsess about it, which is much better way to live I think.
Brilliant, Olga. Really. This piece should be required reading for every woman.
Thank you, Alison! This was very kind of you to say.
That was very thoughtful. Coming from the perspective of a former eating disorder patient, a good chunk of my life was spent hating my body. I know for my mental health I need to love my body, not just accept it. Loving it helps keep me safe from relapse. I protect the things I love. Paying too much attention was a symptom of a legitimate mental health concern and I struggle with it. I have better things to do than worry about my body, but I’ve found that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I get so much shit done, but I still struggle with Dysmorphia and that’s just how it is. I think it’s excellent to aim for at minimum acceptance and I’m sure for lots of people that’s more than enough. Thank you for speaking for them.
Hi Alison, thank you so much for sharing your story. I understand what you’re saying about dealing with eating disorders and finally accepting and loving your body, I really do. I think there are many ways you can learn to not harm yourself and eat well but not obsess or stress about it. For me it was finding a middle way between loving my body and hating it. For you, it’s loving your body. There is nothing wrong about loving your body, only if you start obsessing about it (good or bad). And besides, womena re so often told to love their bodies but it only illustrates the point that in the eyes of society, women=bodies and I wanted to speak out against that. If you love your body because then you protect it, that’s great!
I really like this Olga. Very interesting perspective, I too have spent a long time on body shaming and other issues related to eating disorders. This is great. I really like your pragmatic approach.
Thank you, Jenny. I think I don’t know any woman who didn’t have any eating disorder or a warped body image. I wrote this post because I was so annoyed with women being told to love their bodies and pretty much being equated with bodies, while women have so much more to offer.
Olga, this is brilliant. Finally, a “body image” piece I can relate do and one that doesn’t make me cringe for all of the underlying messaging, naivety, and unintended implications. Bravo, bravo.
Thank you so much, Jess. I also thought the message “Love your body” is not very realistic.. it’s like with your employee: you don’t have to love him, you just have to work with him.
I really like the idea of comparing your body to a car. This is a way of looking at my body that I can definitely get behind since I struggle with the idea of “loving” my body. This makes me think that I don’t need to love it, I just need to take care of it.
I love your way of thinking. Thanks for putting it into words.